Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Budget cuts to St. Louis police force loom

Board, department are $6.4M apart on 2011 budget

By Chris King
Of The St. Louis American

At the public meeting of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners this morning, board chair Todd Epsten fired what might be described as a preemptive strike in a potential battle over budget cuts to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

In introducing Police Chief Dan Isom’s presentation on the budget, Epsten said the department could "yell, scream and whine," but that would not change the fact that "tough decisions will have to be made."

Chief Isom did not yell, scream or whine when he took the podium. He calmly explained how his department has steadily been making adjustments to budget cuts. However, his budget for the next fiscal year remains $6.4 million higher than what the City of St. Louis has proposed.

The City has allotted the department nearly $142 million, while Isom is asking for $148.4 million.

Isom said he would need to trim the department by 220 police officers to make up for the budget shortfall, though he would almost certainly recommend a mix of staff cuts and cuts to benefits rather than cut the force that drastically.

Isom said he would be conducting an "open and transparent discussion" of the budget with police management, officers and civilian employees between now and when the budget is due in July.

Epsten remained hawkish on the police budget at every opportunity, mixing metaphors with slightly insulting insinuations of how the department will respond to its budget being cut.

"We can get angry, we can get mad," Epsten said. But no matter how angry police officials and officers become, he said, "It’s sausage-making time."

Epsten and the board’s focus on "making sausage" came into conflict with Isom’s stated preference for a transparent public process in one of the only items on the agenda that provoked much disagreement on the board.

Isom requested that the board commit $24,000 to pilot a digital information system that would allow official meetings, like this board meeting, to be streamed live throughout the police department.

Isom said, "It’s a challenge to disseminate information throughout the police departments to dispel the rumors and disinformation."

Since Julius K. Hunter has not yet been replaced on the board, there are only four commissioners. With a split vote, the $24,000 was not approved for Isom, though he mentioned the digital system is "in the IT budget anyway."


Photos from this morning's board meeting of Epsten and Isom are by Wiley Price of The St. Louis American. Knuckling his head behind Epsten is police commissioner Vincent Bommarito.

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